Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at the at the opening of parliament on 29 April 2015

(check against delivery)

Mr Speaker, Members of Parliament,

Today marks the first day of the 29th Parliament of independent Finland. Among you are new members of Parliament, experienced veterans and familiar faces who have returned. I am glad to see that the number of young members has again risen compared to the last few parliaments.

I congratulate all of you on your election. You have just passed a difficult job interview held all over Finland. Before you lies a difficult task, for which the Finnish people have given you a mandate. Continuous discussion between employer and employee forms part of a well-functioning employment relationship – I am sure that you will stay in close touch with your voters.

The people’s representatives reflect the people, and that is how it should be. As you will have noticed while on the campaign trail, the feelings, worries and joys of everyday life are not confined to certain towns or cities. No boundaries separate us from one another, nor do we need any. Finland has room for a variety of lifestyles and personal situations, many cultures also.

On the other hand, we are not ready to accommodate everything: we cannot afford a culture based on selfishness or a feeling of superiority.

* * *

When opening the 1995 Parliament, President Ahtisaari drew attention to three tasks: to steer our country out of the recession; promote our interests in the European Union and shore up international security; and renew the Nordic welfare model. These sound very familiar today, too. On the other hand, all things change in the end, as will our current situation by the end of this Parliament.

You and the forthcoming Government have a difficult task ahead of you. No one in this building can be unaware of the situation in which Finland finds itself. Our economy has shrunk, the needle has swung towards critical on the public debt and deficit indicator, the state has large guarantee commitments and the national unemployment insurance fund has a considerable borrowing requirement. Together, these combine to form a challenge which we cannot meet without a new, firmer grasp of matters and positive will to change.

Finland is still competitive and does well according to many indicators. Now is the time to live up to our billing – it is up to us. We know what we need to do, so let’s do it.

If you feel that you need a supporting hand with this, I would like to volunteer, or, to paraphrase Antti Rokka: I’m the man for the job!

* * *

I would like to turn away from current issues for a moment, to present a few observations on our parliamentary system.

Let me return to the watershed of 1987, which saw a thirty-year taboo broken on a certain large party considered unfit for government. This had the immediate effect of enabling completely new kinds of coalitions. Understandably, this new situation created a need to emphasise stability and parliamentary trust, to which a detailed Government programme committed the participants. We have indeed lived through a period of stable parliaments, in which not a single government has fallen victim to a vote of no confidence. While prime ministers have changed due to career changes and parties have left the Government, the situation has looked like business as usual when seen from the outside.

At a time when the continuity of and adherence to the Government programme has been viewed as a key principle, changes to or even rewriting the programme have seemed like a dangerous sign of political turbulence or weakness. When real life has departed from the programme’s script, people have pointed out that the script had to be discarded, or the Government simply acted as it saw fit.  

At the moment, we can only say for sure that, during a parliamentary term, circumstances change in ways that we cannot predict.  This brings us to a question: should we not view it as natural that the Government will present Parliament with a new programme if the underlying assumptions of the previous one have changed and a new direction needs to be taken? Should we not, therefore, break the taboo of the unalterable Government programme? Facing up to reality is a sign of strength, not of weakness.

The recent election shows that we have once again, after thirty years, returned to a new situation in which the variety of possible governments increased considerably. This has brought a buzz of excitement to the opening moves in the coalition negotiations and will raise the level of interest in politics.

* * *

Seventy years have just passed since the last military operations on Finnish soil during the Second World War were finally wound up. In other words, Finland has enjoyed peace for seventy years. More than this, it has also developed into one of the world’s most successful nations. A foreign policy well-framed to meet all of Finland’s fundamental needs has been an indispensable part of, and has set the scene for, this success story. This will continue to be the case.

Finland’s foreign and security policy has gone through many, varied phases over recent decades. Easier periods have given way to less stable, more anxious times. We have come through the harder times and coped with change. This is worth remembering now, at a time when the security policy situation has once again become more tense in Europe. International tensions will also overshadow the work of the Parliamentary term about to begin. Parliament will be confronted with simultaneous challenges from a number of directions. 

The goal of Finland’s foreign policy aims at securing our independence, security and wellbeing in all situations. It would be sensible to continue building Finland’s international position on a broad basis, rather than resting on only one or two pillars. We must pay close attention to our national defence and security. As ever, close international cooperation is necessary. So too is nurturing our relations with Russia. We must take a broad view and promote the building of a world in which ground rules based on international law and cooperation between equals have the strongest possible basis. Such work is also necessary – indeed particularly so – when the prospects of success are fewer.

There is need for an open, pluralistic discussion on foreign and security policy. I intend to promote such a discussion at the Kultaranta talks to be held in June. On the other hand, great responsibility goes hand in hand with the leadership and execution of foreign and security policy. In our actions as decision-makers, we must give centre stage to the determined pursuit of our own goals based on the situation in question, not to emotional or short-term perspectives.  

I would like to congratulate the Speaker and Deputy Speakers of Parliament for the continued support they have received and wish every one of you the greatest success, as well as wisdom in your demanding work on Finland’s behalf.

I hereby declare the 2015 session of Parliament open.